An updated 2022 version of this chart can be seen here.

This week we present another of our animated charts based on Fortune magazine’s annual lists of the 500 largest US public companies (based on revenues).  This time, our focus is on the companies which made the highest dollar profits, from 1994 through 2019. You can watch, pause, and rewind the whole chart above.

As you watch the chart, you will see companies come and go.  Automakers, finance companies, big oil, and tech companies all have their turn.  Walmart and especially Microsoft are in there profiting away.  And ExxonMobil, John D. Rockefeller’s old Standard Oil of New Jersey, has made a ton of profits. 

However, it is important to remember that ExxonMobil was required to make a huge capital investment in order to earn those profits.  From a Return on Investment (ROI) perspective – the real measure of profitability – ExxonMobil is not especially “profitable.”  By that same measure, Apple and Microsoft are extremely profitable.  Please read this article for more on true profitability.

In the next couple of weeks, we plan on producing another one of these charts on the Fortune 500 companies with the largest market capitalizations, over this same twenty-six-year time period.

We have also put video versions of these charts on this page, each with a soundtrack, or mute if you don’t like the music!

Please pass this along to anyone you think would find it interesting! We invite your comments here.

Gary Hoover
Executive Director
American Business History Center

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